Executive Secretary Marta Cavallé talks about her career and the future of SSF

March 8 was International Women’s Rights Day. What better time to talk to our new Executive Secretary Marta Cavallé about her career and the future of SSF?

Can you tell us about yourself and how you became involved in working with Small-scale Fisheries (SSF) and in LIFE?

My passion for the sea steered me towards a career as a marine biologist. However, something was missing; social and anthropological sciences were of interest to me too and of importance to my own world view. In fisheries I discovered that perfect balance between the two approaches. Making friends with fishers and working with them came naturally to me, and I became totally hooked on the fisheries sector.

In 2008 I had the privilege to meet Antonio García Allut, one of the “fathers” of co-management in Europe and learned about the work of Lonxanet Foundation in Galicia. It was a case of love at first sight; their work and their approach really stuck a chord, and seemed to me to be a key missing element in fisheries management. So, when Antonio offered me the chance to join their team in 2011, I left everything behind and moved to Galicia with no qualms. Working directly with small-scale fishing communities was an enriching experience, both personally and professionally. This was my true university.

I became passionate about understanding and gathering fishers’ traditional ecological knowledge, promoting bottom-up approaches, and collective thinking. I also learned how to manage conflicts! The work led Lonxanet into coordinating a small-scale fishers network in the Mediterranean. This happened to coincide with the CFP reform process, and we got drawn in. In 2012, we were asked by Greenpeace to facilitate a session in the “The First European Artisanal Fishermen’s Congress”, to help fishers in the sector to understand how they could improve their future prospects. I had the honor to facilitate the session where all the SSF delegates decided unanimously to create LIFE. It was a very exciting moment! Three years later, I met LIFE’s Director Jerry Percy again and he asked me to join LIFE as Mediterranean Coordinator; another decision in my life that I launched into with no hesitation!

What role do you see SSF playing in sustainable development and how can fishers be better supported?

I am a true believer that small-scale fishers can and should be actors of change for sustainable development in their own right. It is somehow in their production logic and so just a matter of creating the appropriate conditions for SSF to become low impact and the stewards of the sea. However, the prevailing system, with its top-down approach, has not only alienated the sector from their co-responsibility, but promoted an individualistic approach. Meanwhile, over the years, the un-managed industrialization of the sector has endorsed the “the law of the strongest” both at sea and in the harbors.

For sustainable development to be a reality we need to bring SSF back to the center of policies, and, as a matter of urgency, adopt a differentiated approach to managing this vital sector. In parallel, at the water-face, we need to regenerate a collective approach, based on true cooperation instead of the sum of individual approaches, and promote leadership based on achieving the common good. We also need new approaches to governance, and co-management can be a key tool to enable co-responsibility, as well as the needed efficient and adaptive management.
LIFE is trying to create the conditions for all this to happen: to support SSF organizations and build their capacity to make this transition, while promoting equitable approaches and creating the policy space for them to flourish.

How do you see the role of women in small-scale fisheries?

The role of women has always been important, is vital today, and is key for the future of the sector. Besides their role at sea, in commerce and processing, in providing support at the harbors, in the office, and in the home, at present I also see many women playing key leadership roles, leading the sector to create a better future. In many communities I see passionate women as facilitators of the collective thinking and cooperation, empowering and uniting the small-scale sector to look for solutions, others taking the time to represent the sector in policy fora, becoming a bridge with other stakeholders, and even leading in the challenge of generational renewal of the sector. The role of women goes far beyond what most people imagine; they can be key innovators in meeting the new challenges facing the future of the sector. We need to keep empowering them, make their multiple roles visible and recognized, and help them to secure their deserved rights and the decent working conditions necessary for the sector to flourish. All the while we must keep pushing for a wider societal change towards inclusion, equity and family conciliation.

What do you see as the future of SSF, and what are some of the key actions that need to be taken to ensure their long-term viability?

In Europe the fisheries sector must adapt to the changing context and transform. Climate change, the pandemic, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, along with evaluating 10 years of the current Common Fisheries Policy are all driving changes that require transformation of the fishing sector. It is understandable that this generates fear in many parts of the sector, but we need to grasp this opportunity to make a transition towards our vison of fair fisheries, healthy seas and vibrant communities. LIFE is and will continue to be there to make sure SSF have the appropriate space to co-design future scenarios, and to keep demonstrating that SSF low impact fishing is a key part of the solution.

How the future of LIFE should look like?

I imagine LIFE will continue to grow as a force for the good. Growing into a cohesive, inclusive, well-governed and financially stable European umbrella organization, made up of strong dedicated national and local level SSF organizations, including increasing numbers of SSF Producer Organizations. It’s a future in which LIFE Members are actors of change, demonstrating their contribution to society as low impact producers, having their say in European policies, with fair access to resources and markets, engaged in the co-management of their fishing areas, providing decent livelihoods, where women are visible and recognized and youth is joining the sector because they see a good future.